When I was pregnant, I read an article about career women who went straight from the delivery room to the office. Expecting twins and being partner at a global consulting firm, I started wondering – What will be our choice and how will I deal with the battle between motherhood and career? Is it one-size-fits-all? How can I be a role model?
You will be judged, but you might become an important role model
It was the summer of 2014 and we were expecting twins. As many other first time mothers, I was in my late thirties. I had already reach the top of the management consulting career ladder, being partner at Deloitte.
I read this Norwegian article, Born, Steady, Go, in Dagens Næringsliv. Female top leaders returned early to the office after giving birth. They watched their kids´ school play on video. Sleeping kids were picked up by taxis and slept through evening meetings at their mothers´ office. One woman even took abortion to secure her career. This week, I came across another similar article about CEO Stacey Bendet who returned to work only six days off after her C section. She did not work full days, but she managed stayed on top of everything. They all chose their way of dealing with motherhood.
For me as a first time mother, their actions sounded completely crazy, but I do not judge their choices. On the other hand, I admire them for daring to challenge the established. It just shows that there is no one-size-fits-all!
Women in leadership positions should, together with the partner, find the way that suits their family, even if it is controversial! Your country´s welfare system and your company´s culture and regulations will, of course, have a great influence on your choice.
If you decide to challenge status quo, be prepared for tough times. And be prepared to become an important role model for young aspiring leaders!
The Norwegian welfare system
To understand one of the reason for our choice, I must give a short introduction to the Norwegian welfare system. When having a baby, the mother and the father must take a minimum of 10 weeks of paid parental leave each. In addition, you have 26 weeks to share and with twins we got five weeks extra. While you are at home, you get 80 or 100 % of your salary. We are very fortunate, compared to most countries.
My biggest fear before having kids
A few years before I became partner at Deloitte, I was afraid that my childlessness would be a career hurdle. My fear was related to believing that Deloitte would not accept the fact that I would have maternity leave, while being partner.
I heard rumors, from other consulting firms, about female partners who only took a couple of weeks or months maternity leave. They did not want to lose their clients and projects. I looked around in Deloitte, and I did not find any role models, I felt I could to ask. It was a very difficult topic for me.
My mentor got me on track
Fortunaly, I became part of a internal mentor scheme. I got a very experienced male partner from another department. We had many good discussions and eventually I brought up this sensitive topic. He told me that my fear was self constructed. It would not hinder me! On the contrary, it was really important for Deloitte to have more young women in leading positions. I was relieved!
Fortunately, Deloitte Norway has realized the importance of a life span friendly culture. Women must also see a possible long term future in the firm. If not, we will lose half of our employees. I would also claim, that we would not be attractive for all clients nor young talents looking for their next employer. In addition, with generation Y on our doorstep, we see that also men make different choices when it comes to family and career, than previous generations.
So lesson learned – if you are insecure, find someone experienced you can trust, and just ask! If you are a role model, make yourself available!
It took four years before the twin pregnancy was a fact. For us, it was no discussion. If the twin boys are going to be our only kids, we want to prioritize them 24/7 the first year. Okay, I would risk some projects, but after working 10 years to build a portfolio and client network, I hoped that they would come back to me after one year off!
In addition, I felt a responsibility for the younger women at the firm. I did not want them to believe that motherhood and being partner at Deloitte could not go hand-in-hand. We went for the full parental leave and a few weeks more!
My preparations at work before leaving
The first months I kept up pace, drinking lemon and ginger tea to deaden my mornings sickness. After some months, twin pregnancy risks forced me to take 50 % sick leave. At this point, I informed my colleagues. When I had made a plan for each client and project, I informed them, making sure that they knew Deloitte would still be there. I only got positive feedback. From this point, I primarily focused on client work and less on internal projects.
I prepared my leave very well, making sure that my clients would have the access to competence and resources in my absence. Ongoing projects were transferred to other partners, my internal tasks and counsellees were distributed to others. And a few things, just would not be done the year I was away.
Was I afraid that projects and tasks would not be returned to me after my leave? Not really. Mainly because this is not a part of our culture. But I also made sure that they would not forget about me. I did two things:
- Before leaving, I send some clear signals to the bosses. When coming back, I will be ready for bigger challenges. This was true, but also strategic.
- I asked to be invited to all strategic meetings and leadership seminars. Then I could keep track of what was going on and be an active contributor.
One year absence
Now, I have been away one year. The first six months, I was completely out. I read a few e-mails, but did not act upon any of them. After six month, I started to attend strategic meetings and leadership seminars. I also participated at social gatherings at Deloitte for mothers and fathers on parental leave.
The boys still do not have a nanny, so in November and December I am only working part time. I started with some self development, like taking the MSP certification! Now, I work on getting up to speed on the projects, that will be returned to me, and networking.
From January 2016, I am back full time. I know it will be tough to rebuild my project portfolio. Some of my projects are still going, but many have finished. I have decided to see this as an opportunity. Hopefully, I manage to take on some new areas and positions. I have also been given a new and exciting task, so they did not forget about me! 🙂
Do I have to choose motherhood or career?
Last weekend, I read an article in the A-magazine. The daughter of top politician and now chair of the Nobel peace prize committee has written a book about her childhood. Her mother, Kaci Kullman-Five, worked A LOT, both at the office and at home! It was a bit heart breaking to read the story. Still, the 70s and 80s were different times. Mrs Kullman-Five was and is a pioneer as female top politician and leader. She has been a role model for many. But she made sacrifices, when it came to her family.
I do not want the boys to write a book about me, never being home, when they grow up!
So back to my question – Do I have to choose my two boys or my career?
I say – No!, and quote Winnie the Pooh and say: Both! I am very happy that I took this year off, being able to spend almost all my time with them. From now on it will be a weekly juggle. I am not going to try to be a super woman. That will not last in the long run. I have to prioritize and make some sacrifices. There will be many long working nights. But there will also be many times were I will leave work early and say:
I have today´s most important meeting coming up. The meeting with my boys!
Do you know someone who might want to read my story? Feel free to share in your social media network!
Cecilia – twin mother and partner
PS1: Did you read one of my most popular blog post? 5 actions to create a better workplace!
PS2: Do you want to know more about my roots? This blog post was just translated to English Back to my roots – from potato girl to partner!